My Girls' Best American Test Kitchen Sugar Cookies

August 20, 2021
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Serves 2 dozen
Author Notes

If my kids don't like them I don't care who has tested them. LOL. We love America's Test Kitchen and are happy about this challenge. These remind me very much of my grandmother's sugar cookies and somehow no one seems to have the recipe. Maybe memory is better served here. I used a whole vanilla bean and scraped out the seeds. Do not throw away the empty pod. Put it in a quart jar and fill it with sugar. Put a lid on it roll it around and store. Next time you make these cookies or anything sweet that gets a sugar coating, you will have a very special addition, vanilla sugar. I don't like vegetable shortening for the most part but I also know it helps to give a tender chewy crumb, so I used a small amount in addition to the butter. —thirschfeld

Test Kitchen Notes

Golden and crumbly around the edges and soft and chewy within, these cookies are gently flavored with real vanilla seeds, nutmeg, honey and just the right amount of salt to enhance the other players without taking over the field. The combination of regular and cake flour, and butter (lots) and shortening (a little -- we used non-hydrogenated) makes for a rich, tender dough that spreads and crisps nicely but doesn't lose all of its structure. We recommend chilling the cookie dough for 20 to 30 minutes before rolling -- it will make your job a bit easier. We used dark baking sheets, so we lowered the oven temperature to 350 so the cookies wouldn't bake too quickly. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
My Girls' Best American Test Kitchen Sugar Cookies
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt; if you sub table salt, cut it to 1/4 teaspoon
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon honey, something with citrus notes is good
  • 1/2 cup sugar for rolling the cookies
  1. Make sure you have an oven rack placed dead in the middle of your oven. Preheat the oven to 375° F. In a mixing bowl combine both flours, baking powder, and salt. Stir it with the measuring spoon to mix.
  2. Place the sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla seeds into the bowl of a mixer and mix for two minutes to distribute. Turn off the mixer and add the butter and shortening. I use cold butter (when I squeeze it it just gives) because I personally think it creams better. You do not want this to look granular and you don't want the fat to break out and look similar to cottage cheese either.: It should look like ice cream just scooped from the container. Start out on low speed and when the butter starts to cream, gradually increase the speed to medium and cream for about 2 minutes total.
  3. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the egg and mix to combine. Add the honey and mix briefly.
  4. Adding the flour in thirds, to keep it from flying out of the mixing bowl, mix at low speed and mix until all is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
  5. Place the remaining half cup of sugar into a separate bowl. Line two 12- by 17-inch baking sheet pans with parchment paper.
  6. Using a tablespoon or a number-40 scoop, scoop out some dough. Using your hands, roll it into a ball and then roll it around in the sugar until coated. Place it onto the baking sheet. Repeat until you have 12 cookies on the tray. Using a fork, flatten the cookies to about a 1/2-inch thickness.
  7. Place tray into the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. While they are cooking, roll and coat the remaining twelve cookies. When the timer goes off, check the cookies. They should be browning at the edges but still light in the middle. If they're not, leave them in the oven for another few minutes. Remove them and let them cool for 3 to 5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack to finish cooling. Place the other tray of cookies into the oven and repeat this step.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • EllnMllr
  • thirschfeld
  • ChefJune
  • kaykay
  • monkeymom

27 Reviews

la C. December 19, 2016
I also was confused by the instruction to divide the sugar. But after looking at other sugar cookie recipes I decided that a full cup of sugar is required for that amount of flour. My guess was right -- the cookies came out great and are husband-approved. I think the "divided" in the ingredients should be deleted.
susanann December 11, 2016
How is the first one cup of sugar divided? I see there is the half cup listed for rolling. Has anyone made these recently (2016?); comments are all older.
EllnMllr August 30, 2013
Hmmm. Only use 1/2 cup of sugar in the recipe, as we are reserving 1/2 cup for "the finish"? That's pretty unclear.
TXExpatInBKK March 18, 2015
Hi EllnMllr,
I had a look and the recipe ingredient list shows sugar twice. 1 cup is for the dough and another 1/2 cup for rolling. Hope this helps!
perkinsa July 8, 2013
this dosent work and they taste absoulutly terrible. they taste like a load of nothing. dont bake them. YUCK!
drbabs July 9, 2013
Hi perkinsa. I can't speak for the recipe writer, but I imagine he'd want to know what happened. He's a trained chef and a Food52 columnist, so if a recipe doesn't work for one of us, he's very generous in helping out. Can you say what didn't work for you and what you didn't like about the taste? For example, I always thought I didn't like nutmeg, but I do like it when it's freshly ground-- could your nutmeg have been old? The challenging thing about cookie recipes is that our techniques for measuring flour can differ and produce different cookies.

In any event, I see that you just joined the site, but you should know that the Food52 community is a supportive one-- we do our best to be constructive and kind when a recipe doesn't work for us. I bet if you wrote Tom directly and told him you had a problem, he'd be happy to help you.
Basia April 11, 2010
Love those cookies. You got them very even looking, mine are always so different.
thirschfeld April 10, 2010
I went back and retested these today. This time I used what I call rainforest juice, not-hydrogenated shortening, like Amanda and Merrill did. I tried using this stuff the first time I saw it at the store, months ago, and didn't think it worked as well for baking but thought I would give it a go round again. It definitely allows the cookies to spread, making them "look" different than the ones originally made with hydrogenated shortening. I also only put six to a tray this time because of the spread. They just cooled enough for a taste, trying one, and I think they taste every bit the same and just as good as the first batch. I don't usually give Vivian and Lynnie cookies for breakfast but today...we will make an exception for test purposes.
thirschfeld April 10, 2010
Just taste tested them again. I think you could absolutely bake these with either shortening and they are delicious which ever shortening you use.
george April 10, 2010
I tried these cookies today. Totally delicious. Loved them.
ChefJune April 9, 2010
have you thought of using a touch of lard rather than the shortening in your cookies? I'm going to try this recipe, but with lard. I love sugar cookies that stay soft. ;)
kaykay April 9, 2010
Made this last night...the cookies turned out more like the Food52 photo, much thinner with no fork tine marks showing, but I prefer thinner cookies so I wasn't disappointed. I used freshly grated nutmeg which gave it a subtly sophisticated taste that makes this cookie unique. I enjoyed that the cookie was a crisp chewy vs. a more traditional soft chewy yet still maintained a very delicate, buttery texture. This was a great twist on an old favorite!
monkeymom April 9, 2010
I got to taste these and they were a surprise to me. They look like some kind of plain jane sugar cookie but then you bite into one and with each bite you taste something different...a little honey, the next might be butter, then the nutmeg, and then a bit of salt...each flavor is subtle and comes and goes. Before you know it you've packed away five cookies! My suggestion is that you have to try these seductive things. They were wonderful!
kaykay April 10, 2010
It wasn't easy, but I did save three cookies and tried them this morning. They still tasted utterly delicious and maintained a great texture. I have to admit I regretted sharing some with our neighbor the night before. I almost broke down and made another batch today, but thankfully, MonkeyMom invited me on a walk before I submitted to a feeding frenzy.
monkeymom April 8, 2010
Congrats! Your girls sure have good taste!
mrslarkin April 8, 2010
Good luck to you and the gang, thirschfeld!!
Kelsey B. April 1, 2010
Great recipe and story!
EmilyNunn March 31, 2010
Wow; cutie pie.
testkitchenette March 30, 2010
Love the nutmeg and honey additions! Your photo brings back memories of standing on a chair helping my mom while she baked (we re-lived that memory today).
TheWimpyVegetarian March 30, 2010
I love the photo of you and your daughter! We're visiting our oldest granddaughter, age 5, in a couple weeks and she's all set to bake cupcakes. So fun. One question - since you add some honey to the cookies, how do they keep? I've noticed honey really absorbs a lot of moisture from the air and has made my baked things really soft over a couple days. Am I doing something wrong?
thirschfeld March 30, 2010
We pretty much let her dress herself, today was better than some and not as good as others. She is into hats at the moment. Hadn't thought of cream cheese but what a great idea.
thirschfeld March 30, 2010
Since I came up with these this morning and made them during my littlest ones nap I don't know yet. With the fat and honey I am hoping they will stay chewy. So I will let you know in a couple of days.
thirschfeld April 1, 2010
Hey ChezSuzanne, I managed to hold back two of the cookies in a ziploc bag. They are as tender and chewy as the first day. That makes me very happy. I am not a big fan of cookies that don't hold well.
NakedBeet March 30, 2010
Aww man, I like that in place of the apron there's a hat on her! ; ) thirschfeld, what about cream cheese instead of shortening? Rugelach recipes use that to make the dough more tender.
drbabs March 30, 2010
What a great photo of you and your daughter! I so miss those days....
Lizthechef March 30, 2010
Who's the sous-chef, you or that cute little peanut?! Thanks for the tip re vanilla sugar. Recipe looks terrific.
mrslarkin March 30, 2010
I love it! Gr8 photos. Wish my cookies were thick as yours. :(